Archive for April, 2010

Chagossians ask voters to put pressure on candidates

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

A message from our chair, Roch Evenor:

“It is not feasible for the Chagossians to be resettled in the Chagos Archipelago, namely, Salomon and Perhos Banof,” was the statement made by FCO after their feasibility studies in 2002. This would appear to be far from the truth as we now learn that resettlement was not seen as a problem in the original study. Therefore, we are urging all of our supporters and friends to put pressure on your prospective MPs to support the Chagossians struggle after the 6th May 2010. Presently, we have Nick Clegg and William Hague’s undertakings plus the other APPG members.

We need your support.

Click here for more information on how to lobby your parliamentary candidates.

Feasibility study conclusions were manipulated, consultant claims

Posted in Uncategorized on April 23rd, 2010 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

A report in yesterday’s Times reveals that a consultant who worked on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2002 feasibility study into resettlement of the Chagos islands claims the study was manipulated to bolster the government’s opposition to resettlement.

This confirms what the UK Chagos Support Association has long suspected about a study that, in the words of former High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell, “reached the conclusions that officials wanted to hear”.

Stephen Akester of consultants MacAlister, Elliott and Partners, which worked with Posford Haskoning on the study, says he concluded that the islands could be resettled, and described ways in which it could be done without harming the environment or compromising the operations of the Diego Garcia military base.

But these conclusions, he was later told, “did not survive the discussion with the client” and the final version concluded that resettlement would be precarious and costly (even though the consultants did not consider cost).

The government has repeatedly used the conclusions to defend its decision to block the islanders’ return, and the study is central to the government’s case against the islanders’ right to return at the European Court of Human Rights.

The FCO declined the Times’ request for comment for yesterday’s story, and claims that preliminary drafts of the study (which would show the changes made) no longer exist.

Yet another reason for whatever sort of government we end up with after May 6th to end the ridiculous legal action and finally do the right thing by the Chagos islanders. Hassle your MP and parliamentary candidates to sign up to the right of return being restored by clicking here.

Hague and Clegg speak out about Chagossian right of return

Posted in Uncategorized on April 11th, 2010 by Peter Harris – 1 Comment

With the UK general election campaign in full swing, supporters of the Chagossians’ right of return have this week received messages of support from two men who are destined to play crucial roles in shaping British politics and foreign policy following May 6.

Firstly, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague – the man who will be taking over from David Miliband at the FCO pending an election victory by David Cameron’s Conservatives – has said the following:

I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute.

In his letter, which was written in his capacty as Shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr Hague highlighted a recent speech made by his colleague and Shadow FCO Minister Keith Simpson, who pledged that the Conservatives would address the issue of resettlement with an “open mind,” insisting that the Chagossian people “must be placed at the heart of any decisions taken about their homeland” – a stance that couldn’t be more dissimilar from the current Government’s position.

In recent parliamentary debates on Chagos, Conservative MPs such as Mr Simpson, Mark Field, Peter Bottomley, Bill Cash and Anne McIntosh have been vocal in their criticism of the Government’s mistreatment of the Chagossians. Mr Hague’s apparent endorsement of their views and his commitment to find a “fair settlement” to the issue is a welcome indication of what can be expected from a Conservative administration.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg‘s office, whose party would hold the balance-of-power in the House of Commons if the Conservatives were to fall short of an overall majority, has written to say:

“[the] Liberal Democrats take the view that removing the Chagossians in the 1960s was a scandalous decision and this Government has continued to mistreat these people. They have done so in the face of opposition from the UN. Regardless of the legal arguments, Nick and the Liberal Democrats believe that the Government has a moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home.

We have actively supported their cause in the past and we will continue to aid their campaign to see justice done. We have been appalled that the government has wasted time, money and effort defending the indefensible. It is a disgrace that £2m of taxpayers’ money the government has been squandered in order to uphold this injustice.”

Mr Clegg’s personal support of the Chagossians is bolstered by that of his own Shadow Foreign Secretary, Ed Davey, as well as other leading Liberal Democrat MPs such as Vince Cable, Jo Swinson, Paul Keetch, Lynne Featherstone, Andrew George, Bob Russell, Tom Brake and Norman Lamb – all of whom signed Labour MP Dianne Abbott’s recent EDM on the Chagos islands that called for the right of return to be restored.

With such positive statements coming from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – not to mention a strong contingent of Labour backbenchers and peers – the Government is now looking more out-of-touch than ever before because of its opposition to restoring the Chagossians’ right of return. Perhaps Gordon Brown, David Miliband and Chris Bryant would care to reflect on that as they seek re-election over the next three weeks.

The prospects of the Chagossians winning a political solution to their campaign for justice are strong – but we need to apply as much pressure as possible. Please lobby your MP and parliamentary candidates to sign up to the right of return being restored by clicking here.

Lobby your MP and parliamentary candidates over Chagos

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7th, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Now that the general election has been called (it will take place on Thursday 6 May), we are asking people to lobby all of those who are aspiring to become Members of Parliament – including both incumbent MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates – to sign up to a simple pledge: to support the Chagos islanders’ right of return during the next Parliament.

All of those who are on record as supporting the Chagossians will be added to a list on our website.

Instructions on how to lobby your budding representatives can be found here.

If you are a PPC and would like to be added to our list, get in touch.

Lords add to criticism of FCO’s Chagos decision

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7th, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Following on from yesterday’s summary of Jeremy Corbyn’s Urgent Question in the House of Commons, here is a brief overview of the concurrent Private Notice Question on the Chagos islands marine protected area (MPA) that was debated in the House of Lords.

Asking the PNQ, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Wallace of Saltaire noted the promise that had been given to MPs on 10 March that parliamentarians would be fully briefed “before” a decision was made on the future of Chagos (a promise that was broken). He also recalled that the FCO’s own Facilitator was on record as saying that “three months” would be required to produce a report on the FCO’s consultation exercise, when, in the event, just three weeks were allowed for its completion.

Lord Wallace further observed that the Government was yet to come up with concrete proposals for the implementation of its planned MPA, which begged the question why its creation had to be announced in such a rushed and undemocratic manner, especially given the pertinent fact that the European Court of Human Rights case to decide the Chagossians’ right of return was still pending.

Although stern, the Lords debate was markedly less heated than the exchange that was simultaneously taking place in the House of Commons, with FCO Minister Baroness Kinnock coming across as much less brash, less defensive, and less dismissive than her counterpart in the other chamber.

For example, she did not go to any lengths to justify the Government’s brazen dismissal of the promise made to MPs on 10 March, as did Chris Bryant, instead choosing to reassure peers that the Government remained committed to “working closely with all interested stakeholders, both in the UK and internationally” – whatever that means.

Nevertheless, Baroness Kinnock did repeat and stick to the Government’s view that the Chagossians have no right of abode in their islands; that the Government is right to contest the Chagossians’ rights in Strasbourg; and that the Government had consulted widely before making its announcement to create an MPA in Chagos.

One interesting – perhaps key – difference between Baroness Kinnock’s answers and those of Chris Bryant was over the crucial point of whether the Chagossian people would be allowed to fish within the Chagos archipelago should their legal right to return be restored later this year. Baroness Kinnock said:

“As my right honourable friend said in the other place, creation of the MPA is without prejudice to the ongoing proceedings in the European Court of Human Rights. Should circumstances change, all options for a marine protected area, including fishing rights, may need to be reconsidered.

This stands in some contrast to Mr Bryant’s bizarre declaration that “we believe it difficult and next to impossible to create a sustainable fishing regime in the British Indian Ocean Territory.

So which is it? Will the Chagossians be allowed a livelihood if their right to return is restored, or not? Is Mr Bryant’s dismissal of sustainable fishing an idiosyncrasy of his, or does it reflect official Government policy?

These are important points that need answering if the Government’s oft-repeated statement that the MPA is “without prejudice” to the ECtHR judgement is to be taken at all seriously.

Elsewhere in the debate, Labour peer Baroness Whitaker raised concerns that the US base on Diego Garcia was being primed for an assault on Iran.

Meanwhile, Conservative Shadow FCO Minister Lord Howell highlighted the fact that the Government of Mauritius was both angry and dismayed at the UK, and pointed out the seriousness of alienating such an important partner in the Indian Ocean (one that stands to inherit sovereignty over the Chagos islands, no less).

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury wondered how the Government planned to explain to the Chagossian people that the MPA was without prejudice to their right of return, when it effectively squashed their only source of livelihood.

For the full text of the House of Lords debate, click here.
For a video of the House of Lords debate, click here (temporary).

For the full text of the House of Commons Urgent Question debate, click here.
For a video of the House of Commons debate, click here (temporary).

MPs and peers attack government handling of Chagos MPA announcement

Posted in MPA, Parliament on April 6th, 2010 by Peter Harris – 1 Comment

Members of both Houses of Parliament today attacked the Government’s decision to press ahead unilaterally with implementing a no-take marine protected area (MPA) in the Chagos islands, arguing that the FCO had acted in total disregard of the Chagos islanders’ campaign for justice and contrary to promises made to MPs.

In the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn – Chair of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group – tabled an Urgent Question to demand answers to why the Foreign Secretary David Miliband had not consulted MPs before announcing the creation of the MPA whilst Parliament was in recess last week. He also highlighted the disastrous effect that a no-take marine reserve would have on the Chagossians’ chances of resettling their islands pending a victory in the European Court of Human Rights later this year.

Mr Corbyn was joined by over a dozen parliamentary colleagues in denouncing the Government’s handling of the issue – almost all of whom agreed that the Government was being completely disingenuous in its attempts to divorce the issue of environmental protection from that of the Chagossians’ right of return.

There also unanimity in condemning the Government over its blatant contempt for an earlier promise that MPs would be briefed in advance of a decision being made.

It was notable that the Foreign Secretary himself declined to respond to MPs’ concerns, even though he had seen fit to laud the good sense of the MPA proposal just minutes earlier during Question Time. Neither did Ivan Lewis, the FCO Minister who had given the undertaking to keep in touch with MPs just weeks earlier.

Rather, the responsibility to defend the indefensible fell to Chris Bryant – a man who has shown no hesitation in vaunting the Government’s policy towards the Chagossians over recent months.

Mr Bryant defended the FCO’s decision to break its promise to MPs on the most incredible of grounds, saying that, by April 1, it had become apparent to Ministers that no additional relevant information about the merits or pitfalls of an MPA in Chagos could possibly have been forthcoming, and that therefore the responsibility to consult further no longer existed. Does the Minister really expect people to believe that this is why a decision was rushed out whilst Parliament was not sitting?

And even if Government Ministers were able to command every iota of information available on the complex legal, environmental, social and ethical issues that surround the Chagos islands (a conclusion that is definitely not supported by the performance of Ministers during parliamentary debates on the subject), is he really saying that this would absolve the Government from having to honour its promises to MPs?

In a series of defiant claims, Mr Bryant also contended that it would be “next to impossible” to plan for sustainable fishing to take place in the Chagos islands. Quite why this should be the case, he did not explain.

The Minister repeatedly attracted the ire of MPs through his persistent assurances that the creation of the MPA was a completely separate issue from that of the Chagossians’ right of return. Nevertheless, and without recognising the contradictory nature of his remarks, Mr Bryant simultaneously stated that the Government’s view was that the Chagossians would not be returning to their islands – indeed, that they should not return – and that the Government’s plans for the islands reflected this understanding.

Small wonder that so many MPs were dissatisifed with his response (not to mention the conspicuous lack of response from the Foreign Secretary).

A full report of the comments made by both MPs and Lords (Lord Wallace of Saltaire tabled a similar question in the House of Lords) will be made available tomorrow, after the Hansard is available. However, here is a brief overview of some of the comments made in the Commons:

Conservative Shadow Foreign Minister Keith Simpson urged that the Chagossian people be kept “the heart of any decision made about their homeland,” asking whether Mauritius would be legally liable to maintain the MPA after the UK relinquishes sovereignty of the islands; whether the governments of the Seychelles and the Maldives had been consulted; and how the effective enforcement of the MPA would be ensured.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Paul Keetch criticised the Government for failing to involve the Foreign Affairs Selected Committee and demanded a guarantee that the MPA would not jeopardise the Chagossians’ chances of returning to their islands. He further highlighted the environmental impact of the US base on Diego Garcia.

Conservative MP Peter Bottomley chastised the Government for breaking its promise to keep MPs informed about decision-making over the future of Chagos.

Labour MP Kate Hoey called the FCO’s decision “rushed,” calling upon Ministers to make clear that the MPA would not negatively affect the restoration of the Chagossians’ right of return.

Labour MP Dianne Abbott castigated the Government for hiding behind environmentalism in order to encroach upon the “rights and legitimate expectations” of the Chagos islanders. She pointed out that the British public supported marine protection, but not at the expense of the islanders’ human rights.

Conservative MP Bill Cash made the point that the issues of resettlement and marine protection must be taken together, criticising the Government for obdurately setting itself against the former.

Conservative MP Mark Field cautioned against using environmental issues as a “fig leaf” to disguise the abuse of human rights.

Labour MP Laura Moffatt asked for assurances that the Chagossian community in the UK would be somehow involved in the MPA, when implemented.

Labour MP David Drew highlighted the feeling amongst many in the scientific community that they had been “used” by the Government.

Conservative MP Anne McIntosh derided the Minister’s attempts to separate the MPA from the issue of resettlement, underlining the fact that islanders would need fishing rights in order to live sustainability in their homeland.

Conservative MP Tim Loughton queried the influence of the US over the UK Government.

Finally, Labour MP John Grogan made a telling and very poignant remark about the late Foreign Secretary Robin Cook – the man who had acceded to the High Court’s decision in 2000 to restore the Chagossians’ right of return. Mr Grogan wondered if Mr Cook would have approved of the Government’s current policy, and whether Mr Cook would have been willing to come to the dispatch box to defend it – unlike Mr Miliband, who Mr Grogan observed to have remained seated throughout the entirety of the afternoon’s exchanges.

“I hope you can live with your conscience” – Former Minister castigates David Miliband over Chagos decision

Posted in Uncategorized on April 4th, 2010 by Peter Harris – 1 Comment

MP for Vauxhall and former Sports Minister Kate Hoey has this weekend added to the growing criticism of David Miliband’s handling of the decision to create a marine protected area in the Chagos islands.

Expressing her dismay at the Foreign Secretary’s statement – which announced the creation of a marine reserve in the Chagos archipelago but disgracefully ignored the plight of the exiled Chagos islanders - Ms Hoey said that she was “very, very concerned and indeed angry” at the Foreign Secretary’s decision, adding that she believed Parliament had been brought into “disrepute” through his actions.

Her letter echoes similar protests from Jeremy Corbyn MP and Lord Avebury in pointing out the “specific promises” given by FCO Minister Ivan Lewis on 10th March that Parliament would be kept fully briefed about any decision to be made about the future of Chagos.

That these promises were broken so soon after they were given beggars belief; for her part, Ms Hoey discloses that the Foreign Secretary’s duplicity has led her to doubt his commitment to “fairness and transparency.”

Ms Hoey goes on to tell Mr Miliband that his decision to exclude the islanders is “morally indefensible” and “dents my confidence in you as a Foreign Secretary.”

She concludes:

“It is shameful and though you may think that it is only a small matter in the scale of your overall brief – it shows a complete lack of respect and concern for the rights of the islanders and will long be remembered.

I hope you can live with your conscience.”

These are harsh words from a well-respected Labour Parliamentarian and are an indication of the strength of feeling that exists in support of the Chagossians’ rights.

Whilst it may be true that the Foreign Office holds all of the cards when it comes to using undemocratic manoeuvring to get its way in the Chagos islands – when forced defend the morality of its actions, it loses every single time.

That’s why the UK Government’s policy towards Chagos is wrong. And that’s why it must change.

Parliamentarians attack FCO on timing of Chagos announcement

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3rd, 2010 by Peter Harris – 2 Comments

Jeremy Corbyn MP and Lord Avebury have become the first Parliamentarians to formally criticise the FCO over its announcement to create a no-take marine protected area (MPA) in the Chagos islands.

Mr Corbyn – a longstanding supporter of the Chagossians and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands – wrote to the Foreign Secretary David Miliband to highlight a promise given by FCO Minister Ivan Lewis just three weeks ago:

“I therefore put on record a commitment to make sure, wherever possible, that interested hon. Members are briefed before we make final decisions on the marine protected area.”

This guarantee, made to MPs during a parliamentary debate, was cynically ignored by the Foreign Secretary when he made his statement during the Easter recess and lays bear just how much importance Mr Miliband attaches to parliamentary scrutiny of his actions.

Mr Corbyn also points out several other occasions where the FCO has consciously timed its announcements and decisions on the Chagos islands to coincide with occasions where Parliament was not sitting. This tactic of making decisions via the back door is tantamount to an admission by FCO officials that they know that their policy towards Chagos and the Chagossians is wrong and would never be accepted by Parliamentarians or the general public if put up for genuine discussion.

For his part, Lord Avebury – himself a Vice-Chair of the Chagos Islands APPG – expresses “shock and dismay” at Mr Miliband’s decision.

His strongly worded condemnation of the Foreign Secretary makes clear that the creation of a full no-take reserve in Chagos would make the Chagossians’ return “impossible in practice, because the only immediate means of sustenance available to them would be fishing.”

He goes on to say that, “this looks like an improper attempt to bring pressure to bear on the [European Court of Human Rights], as well as being in contempt of Parliament and in total disregard for the interests of the Chagossian people whom Parliament, if not your Government, is morally obliged to defend.”

The Liberal Democrat peer concludes: “I can only say I hope you are proud of the way you have trampled on the principles of Parliamentary democracy and transparency of government.”

There can be no doubt that the Foreign Secretary’s decision to create a no-take MPA in the Chagos islands has been rushed. As has been pointed out, the FCO Facilitator’s report took just over three weeks to produce instead of the typical three months (a statement that the assessment should have taken three months to complete is available as an audio recording, and will be posted here as soon as possible).

As a consequence, the Facilitator was restricted to producing a sober, detached and wholly descriptive account of the submissions received, rather than an analytical weighing up of the merits of each given proposal. There was no analysis of the feasibility of allowing resettlement; no counter to the argument that unilaterally imposing a no-take reserve would be in violation of international law; and no assessment of the merits of involving the Chagossians in conservation initiatives instead of working against them.

Was this done to avoid the possibility of the Facilitator’s report reaching a conclusion at odds with the FCO’s favoured outcome? Perhaps if the Facilitator had taken a view on the Chagossian dimension, Mr Miliband would have been forced to make even a solitary mention of the Chagossians as part of his announcement – whereas, in the event, his statement was absent even that.

The conclusion that the Foreign Office had its mind made up all along is a difficult one to resist. However, as the Chagossians’ supporters in Parliament make clear, this does not mean that the fight for justice is over.

Miliband must involve Chagossians in Chagos marine protection

Posted in Uncategorized on April 1st, 2010 by Peter Harris – 3 Comments

The Foreign Secretary David Miliband has today announced the creation of a marine protected area (MPA) in the Chagos islands. The full text of his statement is available below.

Whilst committing the Government to the establishment of an MPA, Mr Miliband’s (no doubt carefully worded) statement frustratingly leaves open several key questions that the UK Chagos Support Association will be working to find answers to over the coming days and weeks.

In particular, the statement does not make clear whether the “no-take” marine reserve – the area within which any and all commercial fishing is comprehensively banned, which supporters of the Chagossians’ right of return believe would severely jeopardise their chances of resettling the islands – will stretch to include the entirety of the British Indian Ocean Territory, or whether ‘zones’ could be established within which limited, sustainable fishing could take place.

Secondly, the statement is careful to point out that the Government will “continue to work closely with all interested stakeholders” when implementing the MPA. Leaving aside the questionable usage of the word ‘continue,’ this does clearly leave open the possibility that the Chagossians – the indigenous people of the archipelago – could be involved in the planning, creation, and management of the eventual MPA; after all, even the FCO recognised the islanders as “stakeholders” during its consultation process.

Of course, it speaks volumes that the Chagossians are not mentioned once in the Foreign Secretary’s statement. This is a disgusting attempt to ignore the Chagossians’ campaign for justice that should be completely and comprehensively condemned.

The above questions notwithstanding, it is nevertheless bitterly disappointing that the Government has felt it appropriate to make its announcement now, whilst Parliament is on recess, in flagrant contradiction of assurances given by FCO Minister Ivan Lewis earlier this month that MPs would be kept informed about developments.

Similarly, it is of serious concern that this decision has been arrived at so quickly, just weeks after the conclusion of the consultation, and after the FCO’s own Facilitator is on record as stating that a response would take at least three months to produce (click here to download the audio recording of a meeting on 4 March between the Facilitator and the Chagos Refugees Group).

The tone of Mr Miliband’s statement can also be observed to closely mirror those made before the consultation took place, which raises questions as to how much importance was genuinely attached to the outcome of the consultation: have the alternatives put forward by supporters of the Chagossians really been considered? And if so, why were they rejected?

So far, little has been offered in the way of explanation.

David Miliband’s statement is undoubtedly an affront to the Chagossians and to all of those who believe in the Chagossians’ right of return. However, it will not spell the end of the campaign for justice.

Full text:

NEW PROTECTION FOR THE MARINE LIFE OF THE BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY

Foreign Secretary David Miliband today announced the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the British Indian Ocean Territory. This will include a “no-take” marine reserve where commercial fishing will be banned.

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) consists of 55 tiny islands which sit in a quarter of a million square miles of the world’s cleanest seas.

Announcing the creation of this MPA, David Miliband said:

I am today instructing the Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory to declare a Marine Protected Area. The MPA will cover some quarter of a million square miles and its establishment will double the global coverage of the world’s oceans under protection. Its creation is a major step forward for protecting the oceans, not just around BIOT itself, but also throughout the world. This measure is a further demonstration of how the UK takes its international environmental responsibilities seriously.

The territory offers great scope for research in all fields of oceanography, biodiversity and many aspects of climate change, which are core research issues for UK science.

I have taken the decision to create this marine reserve following a full consultation, and careful consideration of the many issues and interests involved. The response to the consultation was impressive both in terms of quality and quantity. We intend to continue to work closely with all interested stakeholders, both in the UK and internationally, in implementing the MPA.

I would like to emphasise that the creation of the MPA will not change the UK’s commitment to cede the Territory to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defence purposes and it is, of course, without prejudice to the outcome of the current, pending proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights.